Scan­di­na­vian magic

Nor­we­gian il­lus­tra­tor Gun­vor Ras­mussen brings ‘ Mon­ster­boka’ to China

Global Times - - Front Page - By Huang Tingt­ing

Square fringes, ginger hair, Harry Pot­ter glasses and a “Hog­warts” shirt, Nor­we­gian il­lus­tra­tor Gun­vor Ras­mussen looks just like a mem­ber of J. K. Rowl­ing’s magic world – and, in a way, she is one.

Cur­rently the prin­ci­pal and Care of Mag­i­cal Crea­tures teacher at the Nor­we­gian Wiz­ard­ing Academy – a com­mu­nity of Harry Pot­ter fans set up by Ras­mussen and her friends in Ber­gen, the 36- year- old prize- win­ning il­lus­tra­tor ap­peared at a book- shar­ing event in Bei­jing on Fri­day to talk with Chi­nese read­ers about top­ics rang­ing from be­lief in magic to ed­u­ca­tion, as well as the Chi­nese ver­sion of her il­lus­trated chil­dren’s book Mon­ster­boka, which was pub­lished by Bei­jing Xiron Books Co, Ltd in August.

Land of leg­ends

For many Chi­nese read­ers, their im­pres­sion of Nor­way is “an icy place of peace and beauty.” How­ever, Ras­mussen was quick to al­le­vi­ate them of this im­pres­sion: “The tem­per­a­ture can get very high,” she joked.

Home to leg­ends about colos­sal sea crea­tures like the Kraken and pow­er­ful, ugly- faced trolls – one of the best- known nat­u­ral spir­its that are be­lieved to live in the moun­tains – Nor­way plays a big part in Scan­di­na­vian folk sto­ries and cul­ture.

Tra­di­tional sto­ries in North­ern Europe are of­ten vi­o­lent and dark and it af­fects peo­ple’s minds as well as the books and art­work that be­came pop­u­lar, Ras­mussen said.

“The most pop­u­lar paint­ing from Nor­way, The Scream by Ed­vard Munch, is in­tro­verted and painful; and it is sug­gested that ge­og­ra­phy and de­mog­ra­phy aff ect peo­ple,” she noted. “In places where it is very calm and or­ga­nized, maybe peo­ple need to ex­press them­selves more.”

The un­set­tling lit­tle fanged monsters she cre­ated in Mon­ster­boka also refl ect her state of mind af­ter grow­ing up in Nor­way, Ras­mussen said.

Break­ing stereo­types

Although Ras­mussen ad­mits that tales of monsters have had a huge im­pact on her, the char­ac­ters in her book are not car­bon copies of crea­tures that have ap­peared in folk tales.

“I am tak­ing the cul­ture that I grew up with, but I am adding new crea­tures to the sto­ries,” she said at the event.

For in­stance, a troll char­ac­ter that she il­lus­trated in Sag­net Om Trol­lveg­gen, a fairy­tale about a “Romeo and Juliet” type ro­mance that takes place in the moun­tains of Roms­dalen in Nor­way, sparked anger among Nor­we­gian read­ers when the book came out in 2012, since her draw­ings were very diff er­ent from tra­di­tional por­tray­als of trolls as pow­er­ful crea­tures who were afraid of the sun.

More­over, Rosa, a pink- clad girl in Ras­mussen’s Fan­ta­si­boka, is an­other of the author’s at­tempts to defy so­cial stereo­types in Nor­way.

“Now in Nor­way, it is a thing that girls shouldn’t wear pink be­cause that makes them [ look] less tough,” said Ras­mussen. “So I made a prob­lem for the crit­ics – I cre­ated an al­most com­pletely pink char­ac­ter, but she is also a sol­dier.”

“It’s not the way you dress that de­cides who you are,” she con­cluded.

Ras­mussen ex­plained that, in a way, the char­ac­ter is a self- por­trait of her, as well as many other il­lus­tra­tors. In the story, Rosa wants to track down a uni­corn dragon, which many peo­ple say doesn’t ex­ist.

“But she man­ages to fi nd one and tame it, which is kind of the life story of many il­lus­tra­tors – you’re do­ing some­thing that peo­ple say ‘ it’s not real,’ ‘ it doesn’t ex­ist,’ ‘ this is not gonna hap­pen,’ and then it does,” she said, smil­ing.

Se­cret to hap­pi­ness

Ras­mussen em­pha­sized that Mon

ster­boka is a prod­uct of co­op­er­a­tion as it fea­tures 20 sto­ries writ­ten by Nor­we­gian chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture writ­ers. Af­ter the book’s editor es­tab­lished a theme and found the right au­thors to write sto­ries ac­cord­ing to this theme, Ras­mussen was brought in to draw the il­lus­tra­tions.

The book has be­come very pop­u­lar among el­e­men­tary school teach­ers in Nor­way. Chi­nese par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors present at the event on Fri­day were cu­ri­ous to fi nd out what made the book so ap­peal­ing to peo­ple in Nor­way, which the UN crowned the No. 1 hap­pi­est coun­try in the world in this year’s World Hap­pi­ness Re­port. “It’s a tough ques­tion to an­swer, but it is about the idea that if you’re al­lowed to be noisy and mon­strous, you’ll be much hap­pier,” said the il­lus­tra­tor. “Be­cause tol­er­ance for be­hav­ing ex­pres­sively is very im­por­tant and I think maybe that’s why it [ Mon­ster

boka] works.” The same phi­los­o­phy is ap­plied at Ras­mussen’s “magic school” where stu­dents range from 10 to 16, and any adult with spe­cial tal­ents or an in­ter­est­ing trade is al­lowed to teach here.

“We have taught stu­dents things that they don’t learn at school, like Runes, an old Nor­we­gian writ­ten lan­guage, and Lok, which is a way of sing­ing to sum­mon herds from the moun­tains,” she ex­plained.

Aside from be­ing “the best cre­ativ­ity course you could pos­si­bly have,” Ras­mussen pointed out that the school is also “an area for adults to play,” as it is a place where even or­di­nary offi ce work­ers can fi nd an un­con­ven­tional part- time job.

She men­tioned that one of her friends who works for Nor­way’s Min­istry of Fi­nance also vol­un­teers at the school dur­ing his free time.

“He sum­mons beasts in his class,” Ras­mussen said, laughing.

“Magic school is a good place not to lose your magic,” she said.

Photos: Cour­tesy of Bei­jing Xiron Books Co, Ltd

Rosa, a pink girl- sol­dier char­ac­ter il­lus­trated by Gun­vor Ras­mussen Insets ( clock­wise from right): Gun­vor Ras­mussen, the Chi­nese edi­tion of Mon­ster­boka

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